[Rushtalk] Appropriation must cover debt

Carl Spitzer cwsiv at keepandbeararms.com
Fri Nov 1 22:00:52 MDT 2013


                     Appropriation must cover debt

Reports on the controversy over continuing resolutions and raising the
debt ceiling usually neglect to examine the underlying constitutional
problem with the way government obligations are incurred.

>From the U.S. Constitution, Art. I Sec. 8, we have that

        The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties,
        Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common
        Defence and general Welfare of the United States; ...
        To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

But in Sec. 9, we have that

        No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of
        Appropriations made by Law;

And from the 14th Amendment, Sec. 4:

        The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized
        by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and
        bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion,
        shall not be questioned.

Some who are in the camp who favor raising the debt ceiling, or even
argue it is unconstitutional, say that we are constitutionally bound not
to "default" on the "debts" of the United States, but gloss over whether
or how such "debt" was "authorized by law".

Missing from the Constitution is a more clear statement that
appropriations by Congress must not only limit spending, but the
incurring of debt or other obligations requiring future expenditures. In
the absence of such language Congress has allowed government agencies to
incur debt and other obligations that are not confined to expenditure
appropriations and limited only by a general ceiling covering the entire
government. Most of the greatest expenditures are not from appropriated
funds, and include "entitlements" in which private individuals can write
indefinite obligations to themselves merely by "applying" for benefits
and having such applications accepted by nameless bureaucrats.

I have proposed a constitutional amendment to correct this defect:

Clarification of appropriation
No expenditure shall be made, or obligation incurred or committed, by or
for the government or any activity under its supervision, except within
appropriations enacted by Congress, which shall specify the amount and
the department or activity it may support, and which shall not exceed
six years.

Under this amendment, when Congress adopts an appropriation (which
includes the separate "authorization") for expenditure, they must also
appropriate limited authority to incur indebtedness, for that same
department or activity. It would limit such appropriations, including
any 'continuing resolutions", not to exceed six years without a new

The effect of it would also be that government could not incur debt,
including by accepting applications for benefits, in excess of the
appropriation. If during the course of the fiscal year the limit on
something like social security or Medicare were reached, the government
could approve no more applications for it, and could pay out no more
than what was appropriated. It could not only not purchase a tank or a
plane for cash if the appropriation were exceeded, but not on credit,

This proposal in some form is not new, but until now has not had
political traction. It is time for fiscally responsible citizens to
demand it, not just in practice, but as an amendment to the

-- Jon

Constitution Society               http://constitution.org
2900 W Anderson Ln C-200-322           twitter.com/lex_rex
Austin, TX 78757 512/299-5001  jon.roland at constitution.org

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